Winter Cycling Clothing
The first thing I want to talk about is arm warmers. I’m going in order of the things I use first as the weather starts to cool off, and arm warmers are definitely the first thing I reach for. This is a very competitive space, and there are a lot of good options, but the ones I’m going to recommend are the Rapha Merino Arm Warmers.
For years, I rode with arm warmers from Louis Garneau, and they are an excellent option as well, especially if you are looking for a lower price point. The reason for the Rapha recommendation is that arm warmers last for years. A $70 pair of warmers might be a bit spendy sounding, but they are incredibly luxurious to wear. They work really well for a large range of temperatures, equally well if they are wet, and since you aren’t going to have to purchase another pair for years, why not get something that feels great to wear?
The next thing I grab as the temperatures drop are a pair of tights. Most publications would recommend bibtights, but I’m actually going to recommend just regular tights. When I first started working on this article, this was the place I started from conceptually, and I thought I was being very unusual recommending tights instead of bibtights.
What I found instead is that every single person I mentioned it to said something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I do”. Yes, bibtights are amazing, and you won’t go wrong going that direction, but it turns out a lot of people do the same thing I do. They buy tights that they then pair up with their summer bibshorts. Spend your money on really good bibshorts, then just layer up with tights when it gets cold.
You could potentially start with leg warmers, but even though I’ve got leg warmers – the ones I’ve got are from Louis Garneau – I can’t remember the last time I actually wore them. They are great, but I just never find myself being too cold for shorts but too hot for tights.
The tights I’m recommending are the Louis Garneau Solano 2 tights. There aren’t actually a ton of options for cold weather tights that don’t have a chamois built-in, and these are a great option. They do a really good job of blocking the wind and rain and work well when worn under bibshorts. The under the bibshort style might be an oddity, even among those that wear tights and summer bib shorts, but it’s what I like to do, and I’ve never had an issue with the Solanos flat lock seams.
The only failing of these is that the ankle isn’t tight enough. If these had a stirrup bottom, they would be absolutely perfect, but as it is, they do the job better than others I’ve tried. Runners tights actually do much better around the ankle, but then you don’t get the great wind blocking features that cycling tights have. I’m still recommending the Louis Garneau Solano 2 tights as the best option, though, because when you look at the options available, these might not be perfect, but they are as good as it gets. The ankle is just barely tight enough, with silicone around the bottom, that it’s workable, but drop them by a tailor and have a stirrup added to really make them perfect. At only $99, they represent a good buy and are a joy to wear.
Somewhere around the same time I start wearing arm warmers and tights, I also start wearing winter socks and a winter base layer. The Rapha Merino Socks are an easy recommendation for winter socks. They feel great, and they’ll keep you warm even when they get wet. They go for $30, which is a bit more than most cycling socks, but it’s an easy place to enjoy a bit of luxury while not spending a ton.
Then for a base layer, I actually prefer a short sleeve winter base layer. This might be another odd choice on my part, but the reason is simple. As I think you’ve noticed, I prefer to layer as much as possible, and while you can buy lots of great long sleeve base layers, it makes your clothing more versatile to instead choose a short sleeve base layer and pair it up with your arm warmers.
Arm warmers work great even under jackets and doing it that way gives you just that little bit of extra versatility where you can pull off your arm warmers if the weather heats up, and you aren’t wearing a jersey under your jacket. The only problem with choosing to go that route is that your options are pretty limited. Not a lot of companies make winter weight short sleeve base layers. Castelli makes a really great option, though. The Castelli Flanders SS fits great. I especially love the long length, and it keeps you warm when it’s cold.
If you are still cold with winter socks, tights, summer bibshorts, a winter short sleeve base layer, summer jersey, and arm warmers, then you’ve got a few more options that are still packable in a jersey should weather change during your ride. You could grab a hat. I decided rather than suggesting a hat, though, that I wanted to recommend the Castelli Thermo Head Thingy.
It’s just so incredibly versatile that to me, it makes more sense than buying the many products it can replace. I’ve used it as a balaclava, a super warm hat, and a not so warm hat. It excels at all of those uses as well as a neck warmer for those that would use a neck warmer. Fold it in half inward, so that the tube is shorter, and use it as a hat with an open spot in the back if want something a little less warm. Then if you want to go warmer, don’t fold it in, and use the excess folded on top of your head. If you need to warm the air you are breathing, or protect your face, then wear it as a balaclava. This is a brilliantly simple product that I can’t really recommend enough.
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